New Delhi: Around 50 trains were affected, highways and key roads blocked, and tens of thousands of people remained stranded for hours on Monday as a nationwide 10-hour shutdown against the Centre's three farm laws disrupted lives across parts of India, particularly in the north.
The impact of the 6 am to 4 pm Bharat Bandh, which saw demonstrations in many places, passed off relatively peacefully with no reports of injuries or serious clashes. It was felt the most around Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, the centre of the farm protests, and also in large pockets of Kerala, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha.
Protesters blocked highways and arterial roads and squatted on tracks in several places from morning as the shutdown called by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of 40 farmer unions, got under way. The blockade was lifted at 4 pm.
The day marks a year since President Ram Nath Kovind gave assent to the three controversial farm laws and 10 months since thousands of farmers set up camp at Delhi's border points to voice their protest.
Though large parts of India were untouched by the shutdown, north India felt the pinch with about 50 trains being affected and massive jams that prevented the cross-border movement of commuters as well as trucks carrying essentials.
The Delhi-NCR region, including the satellite towns of Gurgaon, Ghaziabad and Noida, where thousands cross the borders each day was particularly hit. Delhi itself was mostly unaffected, but there was chaos at its borders with traffic snarls that stretched through much of the day and commuters who couldn't get to office or college, or even to important doctor's appointment. Images of cars waiting to be let through, lined up back to back as far as the eye could see, told their own story.
While there were instances of unwell patients being let through, among those stuck at the Delhi-Gurgaon border was a man who couldn't make it for his appointment at the Medanta Hospital in Gurgaon.
Farmers blocked other roads leading into the national capital, including at Ghazipur in western Uttar Pradesh Not far away in Sonipat in Haryana, some farmers squatted on tracks. In nearby Patiala in Punjab, too, members of the BKU-Ugrahan sat on the tracks to register their protest.
Punjab saw a complete shutdown in many places, including Moga, where farmers blocked national highways. Farmer leaders from Punjab have, in many ways, spearheaded the year-long protest.
“#I Stand With Farmers & appeal the Union Govt to repeal the three anti-farmer laws. Our farmers have been struggling for their rights since more than a year & it is high time that their voice is heard,” Punjab's new chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi said in a tweet.
In neighbouring Haryana, highways in Sirsa, Fatehabad and Kurukshetra were blocked. There were also reports of farmers squatting on rail tracks at a few places in the two states.
Many non-NDA parties extended support to the bandh. These included the Congress, Aam Aadmi Party, Samajwadi Party, Telugu Desam Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Left parties and Swaraj India. The YSR Congress government in Andhra Pradesh had also announced support to the Bharat Bandh.
In Bihar and Odisha, too, there was a mixed response.
RJD and CPI members blocked railway lines in Patna, Ara, Jahanabad and Madhepura in Bihar and several roads were closed too but markets were mostly open and offices registered usual attendance. Most private schools in the state were, however, shut.
In Odisha, reports came in of protesters at different places in towns such as Bhubaneswar, Balasore, Rourkela and Sambalpur. They also blocked the railway lines at Bhubaneswar station.
In Kerala, where the strike was supported by the ruling LDF and the opposition Congress-led UDF, KSRTC bus services were off the road with almost all trade unions in the state taking part. People who had to travel opted for private modes of transport while others stayed home.
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